Today, Rep. Greg Stanton led a bipartisan group of Arizona members of Congress that includes Senators Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema and Representatives David Schweikert and Ann Kirkpatrick to urge Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to provide an updated timeline on the implementation of the Southwest Tourism Expansion Act pilot program.
“The pilot has the ability to improve efficiency at ports of entry, allowing CBP officers to focus on the agency’s other critical missions, including the flow of commercial trade and the prevention of cross border crime,” the members wrote in a letter to Mayorkas.
In a response to an inquiry by Stanton and the delegation in March, the Department of Homeland Security said it was “working to finalize a timeline for the program to be implemented as soon as the COVID-19 travel restrictions are lifted.” The federal government lifted those restrictions last month.
The Southwest Tourism Expansion Act, which was introduced by Stanton and former Sen. Martha McSally and was included in the Fiscal Year 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act signed into law at the end of 2020, would create a pilot program to allow pre-cleared Mexican visitors with a valid Border Crossing Card to travel statewide—to the Greater Phoenix metro and Flagstaff, for example—without having to fill out an additional paper I-94 form or pay an extra fee. The change would remove regulatory barriers that previously prevented card holders from traveling to popular tourist destinations such as Sedona and the Grand Canyon. Under current law, a Border Crossing Card holder entering through Nogales is only permitted to travel as far as Tucson, limiting business and recreational opportunities in the central and northern parts of Arizona.
Removing the 75-mile border zone limit would reduce border wait times and attract affluent Mexican visitors to a wider array of tourist destinations within Arizona, fostering statewide economic growth, productivity, and commerce. A Maricopa Association of Governments report predicted that extending the travel limit to the entire state could generate up to $181 million in additional spending each year, and support more than 31,000 jobs.
During Stanton’s time as Phoenix mayor and chair of the Maricopa Association of Governments, expanding the Border Crossing Card program was the group’s top legislative priority. The resulting legislation has been more than six years in the making.
The letter is available HERE.